Little Red Riding Hood, Aladdin, Mother Goose, Sleeping Beauty…The Little Mermaid? It may not be an obvious choice for a pantomime, but it proves an inspired one in this hugely enjoyable show – even if Hans Christian Andersen is probably turning in his grave at the numerous liberties taken with his 19th century fairy tale.
The romantic heart of the original story is just about retained, with the sweet young mermaid Marina (charmingly played by Stephanie Hockley) wishing she had legs after falling for handsome Prince Hal (an equally winning performance from Jamie Noar). But the show’s comic heart is of course the traditional Everyman double act of Francis Tucker and Adam Keast (above). Lantern jawed Tucker has a face that’s reminiscent of Tommy Cooper’s, and he shares that comedian’s ability to reduce an audience to hysterics with a single meaningful look or raising of an eyebrow. He seems to spend much of his performance trying to make the other actors laugh, and it’s hilarious when he succeeds. He’s Pearl (Marina’s older sister) and has eyes not just for Adam Keast’s Captain Nemo but also for an unfortunate male member of the audience, who’s mercilessly embarrassed over the course of the evening. Keast himself is a pantomime natural, a supremely confident performer who’s a skilled adlibber and a master of comic innuendo (which entertained the adults without detracting from the show’s unquestioned success as great family entertainment).
Lucy Thatcher is excellent as Ivanna, a villain whose boastful malevolence elicits plenty of boos and hisses. She’s also blessed with a strong singing voice and steals even more honours as the show’s choreographer, the creative force behind a series of spectacular dance routines. The songs, which span the decades, include lots of crowd-pleasing favourites and the actors show that they are impressively multi-skilled performers by providing the rousing musical accompaniment themselves. Tom Connor, for instance, is both a comical fish with a memory span measured in seconds and a showstopping lead guitarist.
The technicolour stage set is as dazzlingly atmospheric as Blue Planet in its creation of a magical undersea world, with fish floating down from above and characters emerging from beneath the stage as if swimming up from the depths. When the high powered water pistols make their inevitable appearance no quarter is given and many in the audience were liberally soaked.
The Everyman pantomime never fails to deliver, but The Little Mermaid has to be one of their most memorable productions. The perfect antidote to the cold weather outside, this was a gloriously heartwarming evening and the standing ovation the cast were given at the end was fully deserved.
***** A panto for all ages and one of the Everyman’s best
The Little Mermaid continues at the Everyman, Liverpool until 20 January 2018.